• Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column

Back in the (200mph) office

Karun Chandhok July 27, 2011
Karun Chandhok took part in his first race of the season at the Nurburgring © Sutton Images
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The German Grand Prix was a special weekend for me as it was my first race as a Team Lotus driver. I am very grateful to Tony Fernandes and the team for giving me the opportunity to race last weekend and it was really nice to be back doing three days of work again! It really was a very steep learning curve all weekend as it was the first time I had used the DRS and, more importantly, the dry weather Pirelli tyres this year, which are very different to what I was used to in the past.

There are a lot of subtle differences with the Team Lotus car from this year when compared to the car I drove last season and all of this takes some getting used to. Over the course of the weekend I learnt more and more about the car and the way the team operates during a full weekend. They also learnt about me and my requirements from the car over the three days and it was really nice to be able to sit down and work through a program for the weekend again rather than just for one session. In many ways, it was a bit of a reminder of just how much I miss racing full time and also motivated me to work towards being back again soon.

At the start of the weekend I was a bit far away from Heikki but as the weekend progressed I got closer and closer with every session and in the end, I was about 0.8s away in qualifying. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have been happy with that but in this situation, being thrown into the deep end, the team and I were both very pleased with that. Before the session, Tony, Riad (Asmat our CEO) and the engineers had said that if I qualified within a second of Heikki they will be pleased with that for a first effort on a really low fuel, option tyre run so the result was very encouraging for me.

It was a learning process until the very end © Sutton Images
Unfortunately the race didn't go as planned - it started off well when I got ahead of both HRTs, Virgins, Heikki and even Sergio Perez at turn three, before Sergio ran me off wide at turn four and I rejoined at the tail after being forced onto the grass. As the race went on and the tyres started to wear I had a couple of high speed spins which made a mess of the race result, but I still managed to get to the end and pick up a lot of valuable seat time and knowledge along the way. With testing fairly non-existent and therefore with no prior knowledge of what the car would be like on worn tyres, it was important to do as much as possible this weekend. I had never driven the car for more than 10 consecutive laps nor had I run a car with full tanks until the race so it was very important for me to learn every lap of the way - in the end I did my fastest lap on the final lap of the race carrying on the learning process until the very end.

I went home and watched the replay of the race on Monday night as I normally did last year, and what a fantastic race it was to watch! Lewis Hamilton drove one of those typical charging races to answer any critics and prove just why he is one of the best drivers on the planet today. His controlled aggression from lap one until the end with strategies mixing the order up all along the way was sublime and this was a win that he really had to work to deliver for McLaren. It was crucial for McLaren to get another win in the bag - over the last few weekends it looked increasingly like Ferrari had edged ahead but the 2008 world champion proved to be a real ace in the pack for the Woking squad.

Lewis Hamilton held off Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber for victory © Getty Images
Ferrari and Fernando Alonso were always going to be in trouble here with the cooler temperatures on Sunday. There's no doubt that they proved in Silverstone how good they are at looking after the tyres and managing the degradation even at the end of stints, but as a reverse effect it hurts them getting the tyres up to temperature in qualifying and also in the race at the start and straight after the pit stops. Indeed, we saw Fernando struggling to fight early in the race when he ran wide at turn two and also later on during the out-laps from the pits. Overall though, the feeling I get from Ferrari is that they're very competitive in the high speed sections but not so much in the slower corners relative to the competition. The McLaren on the other hand and Lewis in particular was mighty in the slow and twisty first sector at the Nurburgring.

It was amazing to see how many people criticised Seb Vettel after this weekend and start to proclaim the beginning of the end for his season! Yes, he didn't win; yes he didn't have pole; yes he didn't even get a podium - but I assure you it's hardly the end of his challenge. The reigning world champion didn't have his best weekend, but he still goes away from here with 12 points and a 77 point lead in the championship - hardly doom and gloom I must say! I really feel for Mark Webber though - three pole positions and yet to secure a race win must be frustrating for the Aussie. He's charging hard and driving very well but on the Sundays it just isn't quite clicking for him yet. I really do hope he gets a win in the bag soon.

Hungary could be a great opportunity for Mark to repeat his win from last year. The dominance the Red Bull cars showed last year was simply astounding, and although I don't expect them to be as far ahead this year, the RB7 should still be the class of the field at the tight and twisty Hungaroring. Together with Barcelona, the Hungaroring represents another great challenge to the "overtaking friendly" 2011 rules. Looking back, we did actually see some great racing in Barcelona so you never know, we may even see some overtaking here this year!